Please forgive the blunt personal angle, but as the 10th anniversary of Mike Weir's Masters victory
approaches this week, I was struck by one thought: the victory was a massive help in trying to cobble together a golf writing gig in this country.
If anyone in the Canadian golf industry isn't thinking similar sentiments, they should be. That's because, aside from the sheer excitement of Weir's win, the biggest net effect in his native country was how much it helped the golf business here.
Weir's ascent to PGA Tour stardom in the lead-up to 2003 helped the game grow in Canada, and his win at Augusta was the cherry on the sundae.
Golf had undergone a massive transformation in the late 1980s and early '90s. Baby boomers everywhere took up the game in huge numbers and it led to a course-building frenzy in both Canada and the U.S. At about the time that original surge was petering out, Tiger Woods helped re-energize it, first with his 1997 Masters win but especially with his run for the ages starting in 1999 that saw him win six majors in the space of little more than a season.
Weir played just a minor role amid the bigger Woods phenomenon -- more on that below -- but he had a much larger part in the huge surge the game enjoyed in Canada. Back in 2003, both Weir and the industry in Canada were booming. Courses were continuing to open at a record rate, daily-fee facilities were charging well over $100 for a round in the country's major cities (and people were gladly paying it) and equipment was flying off the shelves.
Weir, having won twice already in 2003, should have been considered one of the favourites heading into the Masters that year. But with Woods gunning for his third consecutive green jacket and Phil Mickelson seemingly primed to win his first, Weir was essentially forgotten by the pundits outside Canada, even if fans here followed him with Tiger-like intensity.Forgotten man
So far down the list of favourites was Weir that he wasn't even made available for the traditional media access usually afforded even marginal names. Perhaps the oversight had something to do with the poor weather at Augusta National, where play was cancelled on Thursday, and an on-going controversy surrounding the club's all-male membership that threatened to hijack the tournament.
Once play finally began on Friday, Weir was in contention from virtually the time he struck his first tee ball. Playing in the final group on Sunday, Weir made a string of nervy putts down the stretch to get into a playoff with Len Mattiace before winning on the first playoff hole.
The victory was the first modern major championship won by a Canadian male (Sandy Somerville had won the 1932 U.S. Amateur, which at the time was considered a major). On the world stage, Weir went from a left-handed curiosity who occasionally warranted a mention after the likes of Woods, Mickelson and a few others such as Ernie Els, to a bona fide PGA Tour star.
In reality, and this is the perspective that the passage of 10 years now affords, Weir was ascending for at least a few seasons before his Masters win.
A victory in Vancouver at the now defunct Air Canada Championship in 1999 had come about a month after he had earned a spot in the final pairing with Woods at that year's PGA Championship. The PGA experience had turned sour when he shot 80 to finish in a tie for 10th, while Woods romped to what was then just his second career major, a number that now stands at 14.
The hard-core golf crowd knew that Weir had game and the victory in Vancouver showed it. His win a little more than a year later at the 2000 WGC American Express Championship in Spain, over a field that included Woods at the height of his powers, was likely the first sign that the Canadian lefty could some day challenge for a major championship.Quite a ride
So, while Woods was transforming the game worldwide, Canada had its own player who was having a similar, albeit smaller, effect here. Weir's victory at the 2001 Tour Championship had heightened interest in Canada, but to that point Weir had not played particularly well in major championships.
That all changed 10 years ago this week.
Weir, for about five or six more years after his Masters win, was one of a handful of players in the chase pack who occasionally eclipsed Woods. Aside from 11 top-10 showings in major championships, Weir was also the best or second-best International player in the five Presidents Cups he participated in, a run highlighted by singles wins over both Mickelson (2000) and Woods (2007). His near-miss at Glen Abbey in 2004 against Vijay Singh, who was the best player in the world at the time, and the chaotic scenes it produced in the gallery underscored the extent to which Weir had captured the Canadian public's imagination.
Injuries and poor play over the past few seasons likely mean Weir will never again come close to the form he showed in winning the Masters. But it was quite a ride getting there and beyond.
Perhaps as much as the victory itself, that's a point worth remembering as the 10th anniversary passes this weekend.
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